This is a copy of an article published in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 25th February 2002, reproduced by kind permission of the author, the late Desmond Holden.

The “What's in a Name” series was a regular feature in the Advertiser over the period 1993‑2004, taking a refreshing look at the derivation of some typically Derbyshire surnames.

Articles are confined to the origins and meanings of surnames, and do not indicate any particular interest on Desmond's part in the genealogy, descent, or family history of individuals bearing the surnames featured.

Editor's Note: Articles are provided for general interest and background only. They are not intended to provide an exhaustive treatise for any individual family history - investigations of which may yield quite different results. Or, in Desmond's own words:

“In the end it must remain with individual bearers of the names to draw upon family traditions and to seek out such documentary evidence as is available to decide the matter for themselves.”

WHAT'S IN A NAME … Are you called BROOK?
(Variations: Brooke, Brooks, Brookes)

A reader in Glossop has asked if there is any difference between "Brook" and "Brooke" and "Brookes".

The question is interesting because it involves a few features which often occur in surnames and so this is an opportunity to discuss them. Many surnames, such as "Ford" and "Brown" take an apparently superfluous final "-e" and there are very few surnames which do not have a version ending in "s" as in the case, say, of "Phillips", "Roberts" and "Adams".

As a starter it may first be noted that the Old English language was greatly inflected. That is to say the spellings of words, particularly nouns, varied considerably according to all sorts of circumstances - whether they were masculine or feminine, singular or plural, when preceded by certain words such as "by" or "near" and when indicating possession.

Then, during the 11th and 12th centuries the language went through a tremendous change and all these complicated constructions were simplified or entirely discarded. Whereas in French "a hand" is taken to be feminine (la main) our irrationalities and things are simply "a" or "the". Plurals are formed largely by adding on "-s" but a few of the older constructions have remained (child: children). Only pronouns preserve a semblance of the old inflections (I/me: they/them). The value of these changes can be illustrated (rather simplistically it is feared) by referring to a few familiar phrases taken from another greatly inflected language, namely Latin. In English, for example, the same word "year" can be kept the same, irrespective of its context, whereas its Latin counterpart, "annus" varies according to sense. So we say "a horrible year" and in Latin that stands as "annus horribilis". But while we say "so much a year" in Latin it appears as "per annum". Then "during the year of the Lord" the form again alters to "anno Domini". It is through having rid itself of such complications that English has become a world language (third to Mandarin Chinese and Spanish).

In relating these changes to surnames which have been derived from nouns, a further reference to Latin may not come amiss. In that language words alter when following certain prepositions. Thus the word for "day" is "dies" and is recognised in Verdi's "Requiem" from "Dies Irae" or "Day of Wrath". However when it follows "per" (during) ... it changes to "diem" (as in "per diem" which can be rendered "daily" or "through the day"). Similarly, "sine" means "without" and so when committees postpone a further meeting "without fixing a date" it is recorded in the minutes as "sine die".

Correspondingly in Old English, in the case of "Brook" as a surname, this was derived from the word "broc" and when used on its own it remained as "broc" but when following words which signified "by" or "near" it became "broce". Because brooks were a distinct feature in many neighbourhoods it would follow that they provided a convenient means of identification for many inhabitants. Often they were simply designated as "Broc" which later became "Brook" as today. Earlier references are to "Eustace del Broc" in Northampton (1130) and to "Randel de Broc" in Hampshire (1157). Where, however, their neighbours wished to locate them more precisely, they used phrases which meant "by" or "near" and gave us "Peter atte Brooke" in Essex (1296) and "John by the Brooke" in Worcester (1332). In passing it may be noted that the surnames cited tend towards the south. This is probably because in the northern regions "bum" and "beck" prevailed.

Forms of surnames ending in "-s" or "es" indicate "of" in the sense of "belonging to". So, in answer to the inquiry "Whose child is that?" the answer could be "It is John's" - or whoever. In Old English this possessive form was shown by tagging-on the unit "-es". It still survives in the use of what is commonly called the "apostrophe's". "Apostrophe" is Greek and means (roughly) "left out" and the leaving-out here refers to the "-e" of the old syllable "es". While it still exists in other contexts it no longer appears in surnames. So "of Brook" might once have been "Brookes", then "Brook's" and is now simply "Brooks" or "Brookes".

The origin of the word "brook" is uncertain but it is most likely to be related to "break" - ie. The breaking forth of waters from the ground. The word "spring" may be similarly interpreted.

Apart from the simple forms already noted, the surname has many extensions such as "Brookesbank", "Brookhouse" etc. Their meanings may readily be discerned. Curiously enough the unit "Brook" appears in only a few major place-names but frequently as a neighbourhood name. In Derbyshire we have the place-name "Shirebrook" and the minor local names such as "Brockley" (The clearing by the brook - Bolsover) and "Holbrook" (The brook in the Hollow - Eckington) and families with these and similar names have a positive clue to their ancestral origins.

Surnames based on "Brook" are more or less evenly distributed across the country. There are several hundred in the local directory. Although there are about 50 entries in the Standard Biographies, none is exactly a headliner. Except perhaps Rupert Brooke (1888-1915) who wrote the lines "If I should die, think only this of me..." Contrary to a widely held misconception he did not die in battle but of a sun-stroke in the Greek Island of Scyros.

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From "The Peak Advertiser", 25th February 2002.

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